(World Village, 2003)
I'm not sure whether to be amused or approving of Kila's proud announcements of their win for Hot Press Readers' Poll Trad Act. Hearing their latest, Luna Park, shows they certainly deserve the recognition. That same album also shows it's like awarding a fireworks display a prize as Best Painting. One of these things is blatantly not like the others.
It's easy to understand why fans have to resort to this misassignment of genres. No label comfortably fits Kila, or sticks to them for long. They've kept all the emotion of Irish traditional music -- and a good bit of the sound, with pipes and fiddles a-goin' and mixed it with beats from around the world. There are African rhythms, American blues and I do believe you'll hear more than a hint of the Middle East if you tilt your ear to this CD. Don't let the short track list fool you -- this is a long album, with three tracks hovering around the 10-minute mark. Kila is an energetic band, with lots of stamina and the control to balance its dark horde of instruments. While some large groups attain a minimizing unity, Kila seems intent on having every voice and instrument in their large group be distinctively clear. What those voices are saying is somewhat of a mystery; many of the lyrics are in Gaelic, and none are transcribed in the liner notes. It's a wise decision. Translated, they're poetic, but very simplistic. Not knowing what's being said leaves them free to take on a spellbinding chant quality. The vocalists posses an admirable trust in their own skill, opening up their throats for banshee wails and murmuring liquid chants that go beyond the boundaries of proper singing. It should result in chaos, but each individual player manages to shine without distracting from the whole, and the cooperative clamor adds a helpful hint of misrule to Kila's already wild compositions.
Luna Park announces its start with the grand, mad, roaming "Glanfaidh Me." Almost 10 minutes long, this ambitious song holds to a lyric and melodic theme without even coming close to repetition, so that the ending is an unexpected intrusion. The wildness of the opening song makes the bubbling rapids of "Hebden Bridge" seem almost restful. It's only an illusion; there are no true lags in the action here. Anyone who manages to catch their breath in the slight slowing of "Wandering Fish" will find it knocked out again by the wailing vocals and African beat of "The Mama Song." For all the energy that pours from Kila's music, none of it feels rushed or hasty; the band gives all the pieces room to spread and time to explore, so that even the shortest tunes take on the expansive qualities of suites, and the longer pieces take on an expressiveness that some whole albums fail to achieve.
Luna Park is that rare studio album that achieves the energy of a live performance with the technical perfection available only in recordings. Consistent without ever growing tedious, wild without becoming chaotic, Kila is a band of exuberant contradictions. Turn up your stereos, pad your walls, and enjoy the ride through Luna Park.